The water stressed community of Centane in the Eastern Cape, returned to the Mthatha High Court on 12 November after government failed to provide a plan to address the crippling problem.

The community is supported by Masifundise and the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The community of Ward 28 in the Mnquma Municipality has been without sustainable and reliable water supply since 2017. The residents have continued to experience a daily violation of their guaranteed water rights as enshrined in sections 24 and 27 of the Constitution of South Africa. Many have been forced to meet their water needs from contaminated rivers and lakes, depleting boreholes, and inconsistent water deliveries from local government. Some communities have to walk as far as 2km to fetch clean water. Women are particularly vulnerable and are forced to collect water in groups to avoid gender-based crimes.

In an important ruling on 1 October 2021, the Mthatha High Court instructed the local, provincial and national governments to develop concrete plans to deliver potable water to the Centane community in the Eastern Cape. The applicants had first approached the court on 6 September 2021.

The Amathole District Municipality in conjunction with the Minister of Water and Sanitation, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the Eastern Cape Premier were instructed to report to the Court within the next two months about plans they are making to implement this order.

The Minister for Water and Sanitation, COGTA and the Eastern Cape Premier were obliged in terms of the courts previous court order, to file affidavits to indicate how they were planning to ensure water access to these villages but failed to do so in court.

“We are seriously disappointed and disheartened by government ignoring the court order to tells us when and how they intend to provide us with water. Their actions point to an uncaring government and one that is willing to let their most vulnerable people suffer during a global pandemic. We need water and we need government to commit to when and how they will give it to us, it’s that simple”, said Gustaf Wayile, a community activist from Nombanjana, Centane.

“These delay tactics by government spell very bad challenges for our lives. We are desperate for water and have been for at least the past five years. Many of us suffer from chronic diseases that require us to take medication on a daily basis. This is a big struggle because we can never find the water to take our medication with. We are not asking for a lot, we just want to be afforded our dignity through our basic rights,” lamented Novoti Mshenxisi from Ngcizele, in Centane.

The Judge ordered the respondents to now provide their outstanding affidavits on their respective immediate water provision plans by 26 November 2021 through affidavits. Failing this the High Court will consider a ‘structural order’ to compel all respondents to report to Court on the actual steps they are taking to fulfil the initial Court Order.

Community members have now started plans to themselves mobilise and monitor for the implementation of the court order in their respective villages. One community member in each of the 8 villages has been locally elected to keep check on these water services. This is to help hold government accountable and to ensure that they receive water speedily.

We sincerely believe that this should set a precedent for other water-stricken communities in our country.